Edward Irving “Ed” Koch ( December 12, 1924 – February 1, 2013) was an American lawyer, politician, political commentator, movie critic and reality television arbitrator. He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1969 to 1977 and three terms as mayor of New York City, which he led from fiscal insolvency to economic boom, from 1978 to 1989.
Koch was a lifelong Democrat who described himself as a “liberal with sanity”. The author of an ambitious public housing renewal program in his later years as mayor, he began by cutting spending and taxes and cutting 7,000 from the city payroll after the expansive Lindsay and Beame administrations. As a congressman and after his terms as mayor he was a fervent supporter of the State of Israel. He crossed party lines to endorse Rudy Giuliani for mayor in 1993, Michael Bloomberg in 2001, and President George W. Bush in 2004.
A popular figure, he rode the New York City Subway and stood at street corners greeting passersby with the slogan “How’m I doin’?” His private life was enigmatic, with speculation about his sexuality, which he rebuffed as nobody’s business but his own: he had no children, and no publicly acknowledged romantic relationships, but declared his heterosexuality upon his retirement.
He won re-election in 1981 with 75 percent, the first New York City mayor to win endorsement on both the Democratic and Republican party tickets. He won his second re-election with 78 percent of the vote.
His third term was fraught with scandal regarding political associates, although it never touched him personally, and with racial tensions, including the murder of Yusuf Hawkins a month before a fourth primary, which he lost in a close race to New York City’s first black mayor, David Dinkins.
Koch was born in Crotona Park East section of The Bronx borough of New York City, the son of Yetta (or Joyce, née Silpe) and Louis (Leib) Koch, immigrants from Uscieczko in Eastern Galicia. He came from a family of Conservative Jews who resided in Newark, New Jersey, where his father worked at a theater. As a child, he worked as a hatcheck boy in a Newark dance hall. He graduated from South Side High School in Newark in 1941.
He was drafted into the United States Army in 1943, where he served as an infantryman with the 104th Infantry Division, landing in Cherbourg, France, in September 1944.
He earned a European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, a World War II Victory Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge for service in the European Theater of Operations. After V-E Day, because he could speak German, Koch was sent to Bavaria to help remove Nazi public officials from their jobs and find non-Nazis to take their place. He was honorably discharged with the rank of Sergeant in 1946.
Koch returned to New York City to attend City College of New York, graduating in 1945, and New York University School of Law, receiving his law degree in 1948. Koch was a sole practitioner from 1949 to 1964, and a partner with Koch, Lankenau, Schwartz & Kovner from 1965 to 1968.
A Democrat, he became active in New York City politics as a reformer and opponent of Carmine DeSapio and Tammany Hall. In 1962 Koch ran for office for the first time, unsuccessfully opposing incumbent William Passannante, a DeSapio ally, for the Democratic nomination for the State Assembly.
In 1963, Koch defeated DeSapio for the position of Democratic Party leader for the district which included Greenwich Village, and Koch won again in a 1965 rematch. Koch served on the New York City Council from 1967 to 1969.
Koch briefly ran for Mayor in 1973, but garnered little support and dropped out before the Democratic primary.
Koch was a lifelong bachelor, and his sexual orientation became an issue in the 1977 mayoral election with the appearance of placards and posters (disavowed by the Cuomo campaign) with the slogan “Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo.” Koch denounced the attack.
In 1989, Koch was interviewed about a book he had coauthored with Cardinal John J. O’Connor. When the interviewer asked Koch to clarify his views on homosexuality relative to Cardinal O’Connor, Koch responded, “I happen to believe that there’s nothing wrong with homosexuality. It’s whatever God made you. It happens that I’m a heterosexual.”
He was frequently accompanied at political functions by his friend Bess Myerson, regarded by some observers as only an effort to defuse rumors of his homosexuality.
He died on February 1, 2013, of heart failure.
His funeral took place on February 4, 2013, at Temple Emanu-El, a Reform Jewish congregation in Manhattan. Because of Koch’s fierce loyalty to Israel, the Israeli Consul-General to New York City spoke. The former president, Bill Clinton, also addressed the congregation, serving as President Obama’s representative. New York City Police Department helicopters gave a fly-over at the service.
In April 2008, Koch had purchased a burial plot in Trinity Church Cemetery so that he could be buried in Manhattan. It is the only graveyard in the borough accepting new burials. He chose to put the last words of the late journalist Daniel Pearl on his tombstone: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”